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Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

February 2012

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur gives an overview of his activities during the reporting cycle in relation to country visits, pending visit requests, presentations, consultations, communications and press statements.

The thematic focus of the report, commissions of inquiry, was selected by the Special Rapporteur to help deepen the international community’s understanding on when such commissions should be created by States in response to patterns or practices of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Furthermore, the purpose of the report is to generate further discussion of the standards that apply to the establishment and conduct of commissions of inquiry, and the relationship between such commissions and the fulfilment by States of their international legal obligations with regard to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The Special Rapporteur examines the scope and role of commissions of inquiry in the international human rights context and pays tribute to the earlier work on this subject, including the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Istanbul Protocol) and the updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity. The Special Rapporteur evaluates the objectives of commissions of inquiry and the added value of such mechanisms.

In the report, the Special Rapporteur also provides an overview of the current practice of commissions of inquiry at the international, regional and national levels. He notes that, where possible, the possibility of national commissions of inquiry ought to be pursued before the establishment of an international commission. The Special Rapporteur analyses the complementary role that commissions may play, but stresses that the mechanism does not relieve States of their legal obligations to investigate and prosecute torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and to provide effective remedies to victims of past violations, including reparation for harm suffered and to prevent its reoccurrence. Commissions of inquiry should in fact be conceived of as a means to fulfil such obligations most effectively.

The Special Rapporteur identifies best practices and discusses standards as a way to determine when and how commissions of inquiry actually advance principles of international law and aid States and the international community in the fulfilment of their international legal obligations. He identifies a number of key factors in establishing a fair, effective and thorough commission of inquiry: resources; choice between international and national; composition; mandate, powers and attributions; methodology; evaluation of evidence; relationship with prosecutions; and the report.

The Special Rapporteur concludes that commissions of inquiry are strong and flexible mechanisms that can yield substantial benefits for Governments, victim communities and the wider public. He seeks to encourage the beneficial use of commissions of inquiry while highlighting the pitfalls to be avoided.

- SR report

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